Stores Near Schools
Point of sale serves as last frontier for tobacco regulation
In all likelihood, kids today don’t see nearly as many cigarettes as their grandparents did. Gone are popular actors waving smoke in Hollywood scenes, and Seventeen magazine doesn’t show tobacco next to the season’s fashion trends anymore.
But there’s still one place kids might see that Marlboro man, and one reason they know America still smokes: in the convenience shops, grocery stores, and gas stations surrounding their schools and playgrounds, tobacco advertising still abounds.
The tobacco messages that kids see when purchasing after-school snacks are some of the few remaining, as health and public policy advocates have largely waged a war on the public advertisements in movies and magazines that used to be so common in America. Point-of-sale advertising has become one of the final frontiers for a tobacco industry looking to market its products to impressionable youth.
Documents obtained from tobacco companies show evidence that corporate marketers have targeted convenience stores, grocery stores, and other tobacco vendors near schools and playgrounds in an effort to attract young smokers. As you are working on developing policies to help reduce youth exposure to tobacco marketing, you may find it helpful to expose tobacco industry efforts to target youth at stores.
Companies Changing Tactics to Target Youth
While tobacco companies used to create advertising campaigns directly for children, using whimsical packaging and cartoon characters, such direct messaging was eventually ruled illegal. In the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement agreement, the companies agreed not to “take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth within any state in the advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products.”
As a condition of the 1998 settlement, tobacco companies were required to make internal documents and memos public through a national database. The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library contains more than 13 million documents reaching back as far as the early 1900’s. Scholars and health professionals have analyzed these documents, finding evidence of tobacco executives specifically targeting youths.
“I have attached information on younger adult purchase patterns and target outlets for DB,” wrote one RJ Reynolds tobacco executive to another in 1984, about Project DB, a marketing effort targeting younger purchasers. The objective of a new marketing scheme would be “To offensively take share from Marlboro by capitalizing on the price sensitivity of younger adult smokers,” wrote another 1984 executive:
While the executives would argue that their discussion of “younger adults” was referring to those older than 18, there were instances where a broader interpretation was implied.
“The base of our business is the high school student,” wrote a tobacco executive regarding Newport cigarettes in 1978. An RJ Reynolds executive sent a memo in 1990 asking area sales representatives to identify areas near high schools or college campuses where tobacco sales were profitable and traffic was highest:
In 1990 RJ Reynolds came under criticism after the Wall Street Journal published a story about a supervisor who attempted to market cigarettes specifically to schoolchildren. In the memo obtained by the Journal, the supervisor, James McMahon, instructed a regional sales manager, Terrance Sullivan, to implement the program in stores:
Sullivan refused to sign off on the program, and later sued RJ Reynolds when he was fired for doing so.
The examples of executives targeting youths are numerous. In a 1998 RJ Reynolds memo titled, “The Importance of Younger Adults,” an executive outlined the need to retain young smokers. “Younger adults are the only source of replacement smokers,” he wrote. Today's younger adult smoking behavior will largely determine the trend of Industry volume over the next several decades . If younger adults turn away from smoking, the Industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”
In a test conducted in Massachusetts, in which underage smokers attempted to purchase cigarettes, researchers found that when the underage purchasers were attempting to purchase from underage clerks, their chances of purchasing successfully went up dramatically.
Banning Point-of-Sale Advertising Near Schools
The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is a federal law that enables the FDA to regulate tobacco companies by restricting the sale, distribution, accessibility, advertising, and promotion of tobacco products, as consistent with the companies’ First Amendment rights. The FDA is currently seeking opinion and research on the potential impact of banning point-of-sale advertising. Tobacco companies have argued that banning advertising near schools would effectively amount to a blanket ban on all advertising, and an attempt by the state of Massachusetts to implement a 1,000 foot ban was struck down by this reasoning.
But a study conducted by researchers in March 2011 analyzed the impact of a 1,000 foot ban in New York City and St. Louis, and found that such a restriction would affect only 51 and 22 percent of retailers, respectively, and that a 350 foot ban on advertising near schools would have a nearly nonexistent affect in some parts of the country. While tobacco companies cited the percentage of land that would be off-limits under a 1,000 foot ban, the researchers found that the percentage of retailers affected would be much less. This map of the two cities shows the spatial analysis conducted to determine areas covered by the two different bans, and the affect it would have on retailers.
Some states have been successful implementing such bans. Santa Clara County in California passed an ordinance in 2010 banning tobacco retailers from opening any new stores within 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of another retailer, in an attempt to reduce marketing near schoolchildren and overall density of advertising in the area. The ban has been in effect for less than a year, but has already served as a model for other communities looking to implement similar regulations. Encouragingly, in a 2011 survey of 600 California voters, 73% reported that they would support a ban on stores that sold tobacco within 1,000 feet of a school to reduce youth tobacco use.
In 2009, the city of New Orleans also successfully limited the sale of tobacco within a 300 foot radius of schools, corresponding with its similar ban on the sale of alcohol. They also struggled to enact a more broad-reaching ban.